This month on All The Kissing, we’re all about editing. In so much as drafting a novel is a solitary pursuit, it can also be thrilling and invigorating. Creating something from scratch makes us feel invincible. Special. Creative. At least when we’re not tearing out our hair wondering how to get from beginning to end. Then there’s manuscript editing, which is a whole different beast.
I like to think of drafting as the literary equivalent of an oil painting. We come up with something that to us is lovely and at first look nearly complete. We send it out to critique partners, beta readers, friends, enemies, and if we’re lucky they send us feedback. See that flower you painted? It’s the wrong hue. That vase isn’t reflecting light from the right angle. And whose house is that supposed to be anyway? All I see is a white room.
And so we edit.
If the first draft is an oil painting, editing and revision rounds are increasingly difficult jigsaw puzzles. Our work is in pieces. Those pieces may not look like they’ll ever be reassembled into anything whole, but we have to start somewhere. We have to take a stab at resurrecting our work and in the process, make it shine in whole new ways.
There are practical steps to the edit process:
- Read the feedback
- Incorporate the feedback
- Tie up the loose ends
- Proofread your story
- Send it out for final review
All month, we’ve been seeing advice here on the blog about how to take these steps. I won’t rehash them here. The point of this article is to learn how to be kind to yourself while you’re editing, and how to come out feeling accomplished in a happy way, instead of in an I-dread-this way, hopefully with most of your writing brain cells intact.
For this purpose I’ve created a Kind Editing Scale where 1=lowest priority, and 5=highest.
Each Day, Reward Yourself
On the Kind Editing scale, this is a 5.
If you’re so inclined, make yourself the editorial equivalent of an Advent calendar. Each day, set aside something precious for yourself, something to enjoy after you’ve reached your manuscript editing goals. This can be anything from a piece of chocolate to a walk in the woods to an hour for doing whatever you want to do most: reading, cooking, visiting, playing games, listening to music, catching up with friends.
Set Measurable Goals
On the Kind Editing scale, this is also a 5.
You cannot edit an entire book in a day. You might be able to blast through line edits or grammatical changes quickly, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Take your time. Rushing through edits without giving each one careful consideration only means you’ll have to do it again later on.
Evaluate Each Editing Suggestion Carefully
Funny, this is a 5 as well.
Remember, this is your work. I’ve seen stories edited so severely and to so many readers’ suggestions that the end result reads like a patchwork quilt. As much as I love patchwork quilts on my bed, I don’t want a story to be that disjointed. Reader A might think your main character needs to be more forceful; Reader B might think they need to make more concessions.
Only you, as the creator, knows what’s right for your characters and story.
Do not feel compelled to make the changes that ring false to you. Do not change your writing style to suit any one particular reader.
Learn to Look at Your Own Work with a Critical Eye
I recently edited a 100,000-word manuscript down to 91,000 words. The only way I managed to do that was by stepping back and analyzing each scene to decide if it was necessary. I made a scene map and asked myself these questions about each map item:
- Did the scene move the plot forward?
- Was there adequate tension?
- Did it grow the characters?
When I started looking at each scene as a miniature manuscript with a measurable beginning, middle, and end, I was finally able to realize which scenes simply had to go. And yes, many of the scenes I cut were favorites.
Side note: If scenes are favorites (“my darlings”), I can’t be objective about them. I’ll rationalize their value six ways to Sunday, defend them to the core. It takes time for me to acknowledge they don’t serve the novel’s purpose. Only then can I cut them. That leads me to my last item.
Don’t be Afraid to Take Time Away from Your Story
You got it: 5.
Some people can go from drafting to editing to a final submittable manuscript in a few months. The only people I know who do this routinely are career writers with years and years of experience in honing and fine-tuning their work. I aspire toward that, but I’m not there yet. I need time off. Drafting and manuscript editing require different areas of the brain. They’re both creative, but in different ways.
Don’t be afraid to step away for as long as you need.
Until you can see where all the puzzle pieces fit together to form a whole, you won’t be able to do a cohesive edit. So if you need to take time off for other things (as suggested in item No.1), that’s not a failure. It’s a high level of self-care for your editing brain, which needs to recharge every bit as much as the body does during sleep. When else will you be able to do all the digesting necessary?
Manuscript Editing is a Marathon
The same rules apply to manuscript editing as apply to the rest of writing: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Marathon runners drink water along the way. They stretch out when they get cramps. They make sure to take care of themselves even while they push toward the finish line. Do the same with your editing by being kind to yourself. Your work and your heart will thank you for it.
And, as always, breathe.